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Clostridium difficile infection: Learning about Clostridium difficile infection in the hospital

Clostridium Difficile Infection

Learning about Clostridium difficile infection in the hospital

What is Clostridium difficile (C. diff)?

C. diff is a germ (bacteria) that’s found in your surroundings, in soil, water, human or animal waste, or food. It lives in the intestine of some people. This germ can cause diarrhea and inflammation (irritation and swelling) of your intestine.

How does it spread?

C. diff is spread in hospitals by:

  • unwashed hands
  • touching equipment that hasn’t been cleaned
  • surfaces that haven’t been cleaned
  • improper handling and disposal of stool

C. diff can survive on hard surfaces like bed rails, countertops, door handles, and equipment for several months. To help stop C. diff from spreading, clean your hands (also called hand hygiene) with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub. Clean surfaces as well.

C. diff is commonly found in community or healthcare settings so it’s hard to know where you may have come in contact with it.

How harmful is C. diff?

You may feel fine or have mild symptoms, but some people can get seriously ill from C. diff.

Colonization – is when the germ is found on your body but it doesn’t make you sick. Some people normally have C. diff in their body. In this case, it’s no more dangerous than any of the other germs we live with. People who are colonized with C. diff are sometimes called carriers.

Infection – is what happens when a germ makes you sick. Some people may be at more risk for infection. Symptoms may include diarrhea, stomach cramps, and fever. As with any other type of infection some C. diff infections can become serious.

Those at higher risk of developing an infection include people who:

  • are elderly
  • have severe underlying illness
  • are taking certain antibiotics
  • are on cancer treatments

When to call your doctor

Some people develop loose stools during or shortly after taking antibiotics. Call your doctor or healthcare provider if you have:

  • three (3) or more watery stools a day
  • symptoms last more than 2 days
  • a new fever
  • abdominal pain or cramping
  • blood in your stool

How is C. diff treated?

If you’re a carrier you may not be treated with antibiotics for C. diff.

If you’re infected with C. diff you may get an antibiotic. Before stopping an antibiotic talk to your healthcare provider.

If you're a patient with C. diff in a healthcare facility

Let the staff know you have C. diff or if you have diarrhea. A sign may be put on your door to remind people who come into your room on how to stop the spread of infection. You may be in a room with only 1 bed and a bathroom. Special cleaning of equipment and surfaces will also be done. Caregivers may wear gloves and a gown over their clothes when they come into your room.

Staff will show your family and friends how they can stop the spread of infection to themselves or others.

How to stop C. diff from spreading

  • Clean your hands often with soap and water. Soap and water is the best way to clean your hands because it’s more effective in stopping the spread of germs that cause diarrhea. If there’s no soap and water available it’s important to use an alcohol-based hand rub. Clean hands are important in the hospital and at home.
  • Always clean your hands:
    • before preparing food, drinks, or medicine
    • before eating or touching your mouth
    • after using the bathroom
    • after helping others with toileting
  • When someone can’t wash their own hands, you can help them stop the spread of infection by helping them to clean their hands.
  • Keep bathroom surfaces clean and tidy. This includes toilet seats, flush handles, taps, counter tops, and door knobs.
  • Don’t share personal items like towels, clothes, bar soap, or razors.

Is it safe for people to visit me?

Yes, it’s safe for family and friends to visit you as long as they clean their hands well before and after they visit.

To see this information online and learn more, visit

Related to Clostridium Difficile Infection

For 24/7 nurse advice and general health information call Health Link at 811.

Current as of: Aug 21, 2019

Author: Infection Prevention and Control, Alberta Health Services

Care instructions may be adapted by your healthcare provider. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, talk with your doctor or appropriate healthcare provider.